MakeFashion 2016: The best fashion tech from the runway

Wearable fashion where the focus is more on the style than the tech
MakeFashion hacks the runway

It's often said that style is how we communicate who we are without saying a word. So it's fitting that a recent runway show in Canada took the idea of communication through clothing to the next level by incorporating new technologies worn on the body to enable new forms of human expression.

MakeFashion is a high-tech, high-fashion runway show that took place at the Telus Spark Science Centre in Calgary, Alberta. Fifty fashion designers, engineers and artists collaborated to produce over 40 unique wearable art pieces that included technologies such as EEG brain-sensors and projection mapping. Audiences were given a glimpse into a future of wearable technology beyond the wrist. "You won't see any Fitbits on our runway," founder Shannon Hoover told Wareable during the dress rehearsal on Friday night.

Essential reading: The best smart clothing

Hoover, who has roots in the maker movement, co-founded MakeFashion in 2014 with his wife, Maria Hoover as well as Chelsea Klukas and Catherine Hazin. "The pieces in MakeFashion are designer-led and meant to tell a story," he said. This art-for-art's sake approach is refreshing amidst a flood of geek-style runway shows that feel gimmicky and commercial.

MakeFashion 2016, which was divided into two acts, incorporated a runway presentation as well as musical and movement performances. "We're taking all the preconceived notions of fashion and creating a new definition," says Artistic Director Catherine Hazin. "We like to think we're hacking the runway."

While the designs showcased during Saturday's show are concept and consume pieces not necessarily destined for your local consumer electronics store, they test the limits of what's possible with an interdisciplinary approach. With fashion designers and artists working alongside engineers and makers, the next frontier of fashion promises to be highly emotive in new and unexpected ways.

Here's our round-up of connected clothing from the MakeFashion 2016 runway.

1. Contact

Contact is a set of his-and-hers light costumes by Japanese artist Erina Kashihara. The geometric cells worn on the body resemble a kind of cyborg origami. The two pieces react in proximity to one another by exchanging light: the female costume is silver with white and red LEDs, while the male costume is a darker metallic with white and blue LEDs. As the wearers stand close to one another and touch hands, the colours begin to transfer to one another. The man becomes more red and the woman becomes more blue until both are a vibrant and electrifying shade of purple.

"If we don't use our voices, how do we communicate?" asks Kashihara, who spoke to us backstage with the help of a Japanese translator. Kashihara has been making wearable light garments since 1985, and says that sensor technology has enabled new forms of expression. The project represents the fusion and transfer of cells from one person to another as well as the energy exchange between two people.

Geometrical Cells โ€“ Contact | Designer: Erina Kashihara | Models: Alvaro and Alejandra | Makeup: Vjosa Asani

2. GamerGirl

GamerGirl is a set of princess-cut cocktail dresses that allow the wearers to play video games on one another using the dress as a display. The project is a collaborative effort from Phi: Illuminated Design, made by Stacey Morgan, Kenzie HouseGo and Sophie Amin. The matrix-based eight-bit video game is played on the opponent's dress using a paired smartphone as the controller, which is connected via Bluetooth. The shoulder pieces light up and change colour to indicate how your opponent is doing in the game, not unlike an arcade game. If your opponent scores, the shoulder pieces flash red, and if your opponent wins, the shoulder pieces flash rainbow colours.

"We wanted to create something that was interactive and represents the 42% of gamers who are women," said Stacey Morgan, designer and lead fabricator on the project. Models Carolynne Scoffield and Eloise Yaskiw walked a traditional catwalk before pulling out crystal-encased smartphones on the runway to demonstrate the dresses' playful features.

GamerGirl | Designer: Phi: Illuminated Design by Stacey Morgan, Kenzie HouseGo, Sophie Amin and Alexis Friesen | Models: Carolynne Scoffield and Eloise Yaskiw | Hair: Allison with Jason Mellor | Makeup: Tara Smith

3. To:gether

California-based artist Miss Velvet Cream collaborated with experimental electronic artist Kathryn Blair to produce To:gether, a set of neocouture dresses that bustle and fall based on brain activity. Using hardware from Muse, the brain-sensing headband, a Seeedstudio Rephone board, a Xadow Duino and a Xadow GSM breakout board, the wearer's brainwaves are able to trigger movement.

With increasing activity in the temporal lobe of the brain, the lights on the dress illuminate and the servos pull up the skirt into a bustle. With more frontal lobe activity, the lights dim and the servos lower the bustles.

To:gether | Designers: Kathryn Blair X Miss Velvet Cream | Model: Rachel Kieper | Hair: Kelsey Dawn Yule | Makeup: Roshanne Aziz

4. Musethereal

Musethereal is an experiment in mind mapping and an example of what fashion tech designer Kristin Neidlinger had dubbed "extimacy" โ€“ externalised intimacy. The dress reads the wearer's brain signals via Epoc, a wearable technology headset that contains 14 EEG channel locations.

"I wanted to show my brain activity while performing," says singer Angie Coombes, who wore the dress during her performance. Coombes is a singer-songwriter and musician with a background in neuroscience. For this project she collaborated with Jackie Lewis, who has a background in costume design. Programmers Kent Brockman and Ksenia Nadkina wrote code to translate the brain signals from Epoc into colours displayed on 14 LEDs on the chest of the dress โ€“ one LED light per brain channel.

"The project explores the relationship between music, fashion, technology, and neuroscience," says Coombes.

Musethereal | Designer: Angie Coombes | Model and Singer: Angie C | Hair: Natasha with Jason Mellor | Makeup: Vjosa Asani

5. Lumen Couture

A model saunters down the runway to the eerie tune of the song 'Lazarus' by the late David Bowie. On the white top of her drop-waist dress, a swirl of animated light dances in tune to the music, as if enchanted. The project is called Lumen Couture, and its magic lies in its 1960s style hat. Hidden in the hat's wide brim is a tiny pico projector and a mirror used to reflect light onto the dress.

"We're making complete, full-motion available on clothes," says Chris Corner, who designed the project along with Chelsea Klukas, who is also one of MakeFashion's core team.

Lumen Couture | Designers: Chelsea Klukas and Chris Corner | Motion Graphics: Michael Mateyko (KOMBOH) | Model: Michรจle Wienecke | Hair: Jason Mellor | Makeup: Jade Brunes

6. Soft Power

Designer Eric Boyd of Sensebridge and experimental fashion designer Wendy Ng of Dystropolis collaborated to create Soft Power, a presentation of two designs that draw inspiration from nature.

Individually titled Kingii and Stomatopod, each outfit uses galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors housed inside a pleather glove to measure the wearer's state of arousal and trigger responses in the garments.

Kingii, titled after the scientific name for the frilled-neck lizard, includes a neck piece that will flare when the wearer is excited. Stomatopod borrows its name and behaviour from the Mantis shrimp, a crustacean that signals to other species via fluorescent patterns on its body.

"Soft Power is about an enlarging effect that animals use to intimidate prey and scare off predators," says Toronto-based Ng.

Soft Power | Designers: Dystropolis by Eric Boyd and Wendy Ng | Models: Matt Blais and Jen Allen | Hair: Natasha with Jason Mellor | Makeup: Jade Brunes

7. Nexxus

Inspired by the bond between a mother and her daughter, Nexxus is a set of A-line patterned skirts that act and react to one another based on proximity. Take the garments away from one another, and they're stylishly simple, put them close together and watch as they illuminate the room.

The skirts are powered by a Xadow Duino, a specially designed add-on module with a self-contained battery socket. The outfits included long-sleeve black tops with laser-cut flowers and a thick belt to house the electronics. Maria Hoover, one of the co-founders of MakeFashion, designed the dress with Andrea Collins. April Onishenko played the role of seamstress while Shannon Hoover contributed the electronics.

"My eleven-year-old daughter helped me come up with the design," said Andrea Collins. "We look alike, and people always tell us our eyes light up when we see one another, so I wanted to create something that represented this interaction."

Nexxus | Designers: Maria Hoover, Andrea Collins, April Onishenko and Shannon Hoover | Models: Jade Buffong and Taylor Astle | Hair: Allison with Jason Mellor | Makeup: Janet Dyer

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